NFL free agency is set to open in a couple of weeks, but the most highly-sought, high-profile free agent in the game was already on the market.
After three well-received years in the CBS broadcast booth, Tony Romo’s contract expired, and the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback hit the market at the exact right time. ESPN, forever looking to boost its struggling Monday Night Football product, was sniffing around, and the Worldwide Leader was believed to be a serious player for Romo’s services.
Romo loves football only slightly more than he loves golf — and even then that might be stretching it — and ESPN offered him the chance to get his fill, both as a commentator and a player. Romo competes in as many PGA events as he can, and the Monday night schedule would allow him to play through a full weekend (assuming he made the cut) and then fulfill his ESPN duties the following night.
Who knows how real any of that was in actuality, but it was real enough to get CBS — not a network known for its willingness to spend — to pony up for a record-breaking contract.
According to Andrew Marchand of the New York Post, Romo has elected to remain at CBS for a contract that will top $100 million when it’s all said and done. Marchand writes that the deal will pay him $17 million per at “more than five years.”
That contract puts Romo in a stratosphere occupied previously only by John Madden, who in 1994 joined FOX on a contract that paid him $8 million per year.
While Romo beats Madden in terms of both actual and inflation-adjusted dollars (Madden’s $8 translates to $14 million today), Madden’s beats Romo for impact. That $8 million salary made Madden the highest-paid individual in the NFL at that time, more than any player or coach. Romo’s $17 million won’t approach that mark.
Still, Romo is doing just fine. The former undrafted free agent earned $127 million over the course of his 14-year playing career, starting at $235,000 as a rookie in 2003 and topping out at $26.5 million a decade later.
At just 39 years old, Romo has solidified himself as the face of CBS’s NFL coverage for the foreseeable future. That means his decade-and-a-half career, where he earned nine figurers, at the most glamorous position, on the most glamorous team, in America’s most popular sport will go down as just an entree to Romo’s real career.